Discover more from Cardijn Reflections
The Heart of the Matter: Part Two
Living the Sermon on the Mount in our modern world
Joseph Cardijn, a priest who founded the Young Christian Workers (YCW) movement in 1925, strongly advocated for social justice and believed that humans had a special role in building a more just world. Please think of the Aristotelian concept of Eudaimonia, meaning what we do collectively for all humans' greater good and common good. We see in Cardijn's work the just world, the greater good, as the foundation for Christian social action.
Think about the last time you read The Sermon on the Mount. Not just the Beatitudes but all of MT 5-6-7 & 25 and heck through in LK 6 while you are it, in one sitting? Why in one sitting? Because we get the whole perspective of what was going on when the Sermon was delivered. Scripture historians talk about the “Sitz im Leben” the situation of the time, often called the situation in life, and what was going on culturally when Jesus spoke his words. What were the political influences and the social dynamics that were involved? The Sermon on the Mount was delivered to an audience of primarily Jews. If we look at the situation, people were under the occupation of the Roman Empire. Think of where you live, and imagine an “adversary state” occupying your land, sitting in cars on street corners, watching your every move. Knowing your religious leaders have “cut a deal” with the Romans to help maintain the peace in exchange for favors and rewards. It was the Roman way. Think of Joseph Cardijn. During World War I, he was twice imprisoned for so-called “patriotic activities.” Think of the Sitz im Leben during Joseph Cardijn's time. This is important because it gives us a perspective of cause/effect; we see patterns and recognize similar patterns in our life and world today.
Think of Joseph Cardijn as you read the Sermon on the Mount; reflect on his life and how he dedicated himself to praxis and social justice, the foundation of which is laid out in full view in the Sermon on the Mount. In August 1914, he gathered food and medicine for soldiers and war victims. He was arrested in November 1916 and sentenced to thirteen months imprisonment on 6 December; his mother suffered a nervous breakdown upon learning of this. Cardijn used his time in prison to read the Bible and Karl Marx and smuggled his writings out of prison. (Think of similar patterns in others in history, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, and Nelson Mandela) Think of Joseph Cardijn reading the Bible in prison and the Sermon on the Mount. He was arrested again in 1918 on an espionage charge and sentenced to a decade of hard labor but was released following the November 1918 armistice that ended the war. In 1919 he suffered from tuberculosis due to his imprisonment and was sent to Cannes in France for several months of recuperation before returning to Belgium. The “Sitz im Leben” of Cardijn's time has many overtones of the political environment during Jesus’ time when the Sermon on the Mount was delivered. Keep those perspectives in your mind as you read the passages.
The Sermon on the Mount is a collection of Jesus' teachings on how to live a life of love, justice, and peace. They were just the direct opposite of what was being proclaimed by the Roman Empire. Now map those teachings and actions of Joseph Cardijn to the Sermon on the Mount. Remember that the Sermon on the Mount includes the passages such as the Beatitudes, the Lord's Prayer, and the “Golden Rule”. We see in the Sermon on the Mount as a call to action for people, workers, and everyone living under stress during the time. Now think of Cardijn as he urges us to put its teachings into practice in our own lives.
Often it is difficult for us to understand why something like the Sermon on The Mount was such a political threat to the roman empire. The sermon, most likely from what we know, was delivered early in Jesus’ public life. It set the tone of why so many wanted to follow him and why the religious establishment within the empire was highly suspicious of his teachings. Look at this graph courtesy of Dominic Crossan, and you can begin to understand the Sitz im Leben from a political perspective.
The YCW movement grew rapidly under Cardijn's leadership and soon spread to other countries worldwide. The movement has played a significant role in promoting social justice and human rights, and it continues to inspire young people today. Remember that the Sermon on the Mount is the blueprint Jesus laid out for the Kingdom of God here and now. Jesus was not talking about a kingdom after we die; he explained to his people the kingdom is here and how. (You can see why this message didn’t sit well with the Romans, nor did the message of Cardijn sit well with his oppressors)
From my perspective, here are some specific ways in which Joseph Cardijn and the movements he gave rise to have been inspired by the Sermon on the Mount:
The Beatitudes: A series of blessings pronounced by Jesus as a sign of how you can spot people working for the Kingdom. Living the blueprint. They call us poor in spirit, mournful, meek, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted for righteousness’ sake. The YCW movement has embraced these values and has worked to promote social justice for the poor and marginalized.
The Lord's Prayer: This model for prayer teaches us to pray for God's kingdom to come here and now, for God's will to be done, and for our daily bread. Think of all the times in the YCW movement we have used this prayer to inspire young people to work for a more just and equitable world.
The Golden Rule: Which teaches us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, is a central principle of the YCW movement. The movement has used this principle to teach young people compassion, respect, and solidarity. The principles are the drivers for innovation-education-collaboration among all of us to bring about the kingdom, here and now.
The Cardijn movements exemplify how the Sermon on the Mount inspired people to act. The Sermon is a powerful message of hope and transformation, and it continues to speak to people of all ages and backgrounds.
Now some action items:
Read Matthew 25:31-46: This passage, known as the "Judgment of the Nations," describes how Jesus will judge people based on how they have treated the least of these. This is a reminder that WE should be working to help the most vulnerable in society. Think about ways we can do this better. What needs to change and why? What steps are necessary to bring about the change?
The Sermon on the Mount and the work of Joseph Cardijn lay out an understanding that faith without works is dead. This means WE should be concerned with discussing social justice and taking action to make a difference in the world. Please think of the roadblocks in our lives that make it difficult to bring this change into the world. What constraints must we overcome? And how do we resolve the conflicts?
Related Scripture for reflection as you think about the questions, and our current situation in life, whatever that may be for each of us. Read James 2:14-17, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and Romans 12:9-18.
Now for fun!
Skitch out a one-person play in a modern setting with you giving the sermon on the mount. What would it sound like? Who is your audience? What would you add to your sermon?
Learn more about Joesph Cardinal Cardijn and his work today by visiting these sites.”